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Covering these Lakers is a gushy assignment

Posted: January 29, 2013 - 1:04am

LOS ANGELES - Gush City.

Everyone loves everybody now. There were Los Angeles Lakers hugs all around, with fans at Staples Center on Sunday joining the party, getting rally towels and the feel of a playoff game.

Happy 79th birthday, Jerry Buss, as Gush City flattens Oklahoma City and holds the top-scoring team in the NBA below 100 points.

The Lakers not only bring back excitement to Staples but look as if they will never lose again while shooting guard Steve Nash sets sights on the NBA’s scoring title.

Kobe Johnson, meanwhile, puts on another show, more assists than shots, with the unselfish one now tweeting just as much as his namesake.

In a season filled with too many restarts to count, finally confirmation the Lakers might have something going.

How about the Lazarus Award for Mike D’Antoni for being comeback coach of the year?

Or the Lakers reaching the .500 mark again? Happy days are here again, as the world turns. It was just a few days ago the local media had the Lakers and Dwight Howard pegged as goners.

Some media types quoted unnamed sources suggesting the Lakers were talking about trading Howard. There was no truth to it, as if that matters anymore, but it makes you wonder about these unnamed sources.

Others were hearing from unnamed Lakers insiders who said Howard was unhappy and had already decided not to return to L.A. next season.

When Howard announced after Sunday’s win he was having fun, I asked, “So now that you are having fun does that mean you will be back with the Lakers next season?”

I thought it might be better to check with Howard rather than seek out unnamed Lakers insiders.

I got the big Howard smile in return.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your answer,” I said, and I remember saying that to Jim McMahon once and he blew his nose on me and said, “There’s an answer for you.”

Howard showed more restraint and good humor.

“You’re crazy,” he said with a laugh, but then I reminded him it was well known around here that he was unhappy and he had already decided not to return.

“I have never said that,” Howard said, after actually suggesting quite the contrary in an earlier interview here that he wanted to use L.A. as a platform to do bigger things in his life.

“You have never heard that from me,” Howard said. “I am happy.”

And as happy as he is, he tried to make everyone else feel the same way in Staples. The Lakers have been plagued this season by a lack of energy, but Howard found a way to get everyone going.

He missed seven of his first eight free throws, obviously a calculated move to energize the Lakers crowd. Just when the Lakers needed it, everyone came to their feet in a sign of support for Howard, cheering him on as he tried to make a free throw.

“I loved it,” said Howard, who hit one of his next two. “I’m just happy I didn’t airball one.”

As good an afternoon as it was for everyone, including Jodie Meeks - and who knew he still played for the Lakers? - D’Antoni remained cautious.

“Couldn’t you seem a little more excited?” I said, a little surprised D’Antoni sounded like someone watching the Pro Bowl rather than someone who had just recorded his biggest Lakers win to date.

“Not yet,” D’Antoni said. “I’m happy about how we’re playing right now, but we have a big road trip coming and that will be the telling tale. If we can continue with this energy and this type of playing, then yeah, I will be real excited.”

The Lakers have New Orleans here Tuesday, which should be an easy win, and then play very beatable teams in Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit. I’m not sure I have ever seen D’Antoni excited, so I’m going with the Lakers for part of their trip.

The Lakers could be leaving Detroit next Sunday on a six-game winning streak, within two games of .500 and maybe D’Antoni showing signs of life. I wouldn’t want to miss that.

“Time to hit that button,” said Kobe, who has found renewed hope in the team’s play the last two games after calling for changes. “I think we’ve found our identity.”

Kobe went eight for 12, which sounds like the first half, and never attempted a three-pointer.

I worry now I might find myself in the coming games urging Kobe to shoot more. Never saw that coming.

But many of the players pointed to their gabfest in Memphis, leading to Sunday’s locker-room love fest after knocking off the team with the best record in the league.

“It was a great talk,” Howard said, a number of players echoing his remarks and pointing to Kobe’s unselfish lead in changing the Lakers’ style of play.

“We understand now we can’t play as individuals,” Howard said. “We have to play as a team if we’re going to win.”

You have to hand it to Gush City; the players met as a group and came up with that all by themselves.

Bring on those Pelicans.

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